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Lower levels of circulating iron have been associated with depression. Our objective was to investigate the phenotypic and genetic relationship between measures of circulating levels of iron (serum iron, transferrin, transferrin saturation, and ferritin) and depressive symptoms. Data were available from ongoing studies at QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute (QIMRB), including twin adolescents (mean age 15.1 years, standard deviation (SD) 3.2 years), and twin adults (mean age 23.2 years, SD 2.2 years). In the adolescent cohort, there were 3416 participants from 1688 families. In the adult cohort there were 9035 participants from 4533 families. We estimated heritabilities of, and phenotypic and genetic correlations between, traits. We conducted analyses that linked results from published large-scale genome-wide association studies (including iron and Major Depressive Disorder) with our study samples using single SNP and multi-SNP genetic risk score analyses, and LD score regression analyses. In both cohorts, measures of iron, transferrin, transferrin saturation, and log 10 of ferritin (L10Fer) were all highly heritable, while depressive measures were moderately heritable. In adolescents, depression measures were higher in those in the middle 10th versus top 10th percentile of transferrin saturation measures (p = 0.002). Genetic profile risk scores of the iron measures were not significantly associated with depression in study participants. LD score analyses showed no significant genetic relationship between iron and depression. Genetic factors strongly influence iron measures in adolescents and adults. Using several different strategies we find no evidence for a genetic contribution to the relationship between blood measures of iron and measures of depression.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of psychiatric research

Publication Date





148 - 155


Genetic Epidemiology, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, 4006, Australia; Discipline of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, 5000, Australia; Queensland Brain Institute, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, 4072, Australia. Electronic address:


Humans, Genetic Predisposition to Disease, Iron, Transferrin, Registries, Depressive Disorder, Major, Linkage Disequilibrium, Adolescent, Adult, Australia, Queensland, Female, Male, Ferritins, Genome-Wide Association Study, Young Adult